Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saving the Best for Last

Earlier we wrote about the delightful day we spent with our Alaska Elderhostel friend Betty McLain touring the city of Kingsport. Betty treated us to a delightful lunch at Kingsport’s Riverfront Seafood Company, a local restaurant that began as a fresh seafood market and bait shop and has now evolved into the Tri-Cities premier seafood restaurant. Located on the Holston River, it has an open deck eating area, a large enclosed sun porch, and large inside dining room. Since northeast Tennessee was getting some much needed rain that day, we ate on the sun porch which still provided a view of the river.

Riverfront Seafood receives a fresh shipment of fish and seafood at noon each day and our meals attest to the quality. Both Chuck and I started with a cup of soup—shrimp and sausage gumbo for me and New England clam chowder for Chuck. While the gumbo didn’t seem to be made with the chocolate roux found in the Cajun areas of Louisiana, it was still very good and thick with slices of spicy sausage, medium shrimp, okra, carrots, and onions. I forgot to try Chuck’s chowder but he reports that it was also very good.

A digression here on the topic of chowder, a subject on which Chuck and I totally disagree. To me, the ideal is the Rhode Island clear broth chowder—nothing but clams, salt pork, potatoes, onion, and a clam rich broth that contains not a speck of milk or cream. All you taste is the briny essence of clam. Chuck, on the other hand, likes the creamy New England style and the thicker the better. If the spoon doesn’t stand up—the chowder is too thin.

His entrĂ©e was fried catfish with slaw and fries; mine was the New Orleans Style Spicy Barbecue Shrimp. The name of the latter can be deceiving since barbecue does not mean cooked over a grill nor does it mean covered with barbecue sauce. Rather, the shrimp are cooked just until done in a spicy and tangy sauce that tastes of Worcestershire and herbs. Riverfront’s did not disappoint, nor did Chucks catfish which were sweet without a hint of “fishy” flavor and covered with a crisp but light batter.

For those who believe you can’t find good seafood unless you’re within one hundred miles or less from the ocean, you’d be impressed with Riverfront Seafood Company. If you came, I think that you’d agree with our rating of 4.5 (out of 5.0) Addies.

When visiting with Betty, she also mentioned Pratt’s Restaurant, a thirty-year barbecue icon in Kingsport. Yesterday, I mentioned that we may have found barbecue perfection and this is the place (or at least until we reach Memphis). We had two lunches here and the report will cover both meals.

I knew the minute I saw Country Fried Steak on the menu that this would be the choice of my traveling companion, and he enjoyed it so much the first time that he ordered it again on our second visit. Both times he had the mashed potatoes and smokehouse beans.

We’ll start with the beans which were different from those sampled in other barbecue restaurants. These were a mixture of different beans including white, kidney, and butter-type beans in a sauce seasoned with onions, green peppers, and a seasoning that I think was cumin.This was more a Texas-inspired bean recipe and they were delicious. The Country Fried Steak was a ten or eleven ounce piece of sirloin--not the cubed round steak that you often find--and was tender and juicy. Since Chuck always asks for the gravy on the side, the top crust remained crisp throughout the meal. This is the best Country Fried Steak he’s ever had.

I went the more traditional barbecue route. On my first visit I ordered the sliced beef brisket with slaw and beans; on the second (shown below), I had the Tennessee Trio--half portions of both the pulled pork and brisket along with a quarter rack of ribs--again with slaw and beans. This may have been the best pulled pork I’ve had--just enough smoke flavor so that the pork taste was still evident, and the meat was so moist that sauce was not necessary. The same can be said for the beef brisket. And the ribs were meaty and juicy, the fat rendered away in the smoking process, and the sauce added at the end almost was almost caramelized.

At each table was a selection of seven sauces including a Carolina Mustard, a Texas-style, a Memphis-style, and Pratt’s Original. The house sauce was so good that I had to buy a bottle for the road.

Jonathan Pratt, a CIA graduate, is currently the executive chef. Since neither of us could find anything to quibble over, we are giving Pratt’s our first 5.0 Addie rating. This is a real find. The food is great, the prices are reasonable, and the service is friendly and efficient.

We'll be leaving Kingsport with memories of some very good food at some very fine restaurants.

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